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United States v. Lane

April 10, 1985

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA EX REL. FRED REED, PETITIONER-APPELLEE,
v.
MICHAEL LANE AND JAMES GREER, RESPONDENTS-APPELLANTS



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 83 C 3622 -- Milton I. Shadur, Judge.

Author: Campbell

Before CUMMINGS, Chief Judge, COFFEY, Circuit Judge, and CAMPBELL, Senior District Judge.*fn*

Order

CAMPBELL, Senior District Judge. The State of Illinois appeals the District Court's grant of a Writ of Habeas Corpus to Fred Reed. The petitioner had been serving two concurrent prison terms of fifty to one hundred years for two murders with an additional concurrent term of twenty to thirty years for armed robbery. The constitutional violation found by the District Court involved the state trial judge's failure to give a jury instruction on the compulsion defense. The trial judge declined to give the instruction based upon his interpretation of Illinois statutory law which provided that compulsion is not a defense in a capital case. This ruling was affirmed by the Appellate Court of Illinois, People v. Reed, 104 Ill. App. 3d 331, 432 N.E.2d 979, 60 Ill. Dec. 80 (Ill. App. 1982). The District Court, however, held that under that interpretation, the Illinois statute failed to put the petitioner on notice as to the requirements of the criminal law and therefore violated his due process rights. Based on that analysis, the District Judge granted the writ requiring Reed's discharge unless he was properly retried within 120 days. The state appeals that decision raising numerous arguments.

At the state court trial the bulk of the testimony regarding the actual incident came from statements of Reed. Those statements presented the following scenario. Michael Robbins, one of the murder victims, became involved in a heroin trafficking territorial dispute with another drug pusher named "Big 50". Since an amicable resolution was impossible, Big 50 determined that Robbins would be killed.*fn1 Reed, who lived in the same apartment building as Robbins, had lent him a 32 automatic gun for protection.*fn2 On August 28, 1977, Lonnie Hall entered Reed's apartment with a gun and told him he wanted to use Reed to get into Robbins' apartment. Hall apparently believed Robbins would open the door for reed since he trusted him. He told Reed if he didn't cooperate he "would come up dead." They went to Robbins' apartment, Reed knocked and identified himself, and Robbins opened the door. Hall then forced his way into the apartment and ordered Reed to tie up Robbins. Then Hall put a pillow over Robbins' head and shot him twice.

Hall and Reed then left Robbins' apartment. As they did so, Robbins' girl friend, Beverly Truitt, opened her door and asked what happened. Hall told Reed to stay in the hall and then he pushed Truitt back into her apartment. He then shot her twice and returned with a handful of jewelry. At Reed's request, Hall gave him some of the jewelry but told him if he revealed what had happened he would kill him.

Thereafter, Reed was indicted for two counts of murder and one count of armed robbery. At trial his defense was that he was coerced into participating in the crimes. However, after all the evidence was presented, the trial judge refused to instruct the jury on the coercion defense, concluding that under the applicable Illinois statutes coercion was not a defense in this case. Thereafter, the jury found Reed guilty of all three counts.

The Appellate Court of Illinois upheld the trial court's decision and presented the reasoning for it. The compulsion defense is codified in Ill. Rev. Stat. ch. 38, ยง 7-11(a):

A person is not guilty of an offense, other than an offense punishable with death, by reason of conduct which he performs under the compulsion of threat or menace of the imminent infliction of death or great bodily harm, if he reasonably believes death or great bodily harm will be inflicted upon him if he does not perform such conduct.

The court determined that Reed had committed a capital offense because he had been involved in two murders. This conclusion was premised on Section 9-1(b)(3) of Illinois' death penalty statute:

A defendant who at the time of the commission of the offense has attained the age of 18 or more and who has been found guilty of murder may be sentenced to death if: . . .

3. the defendant has been convicted of murdering two or more individuals under Subsection (a) of this Section or under any law of the United States or of any state which is substantially similar to Subsection (a) of this Section regardless of whether the deaths occurred as the result of the same act or of several related or unrelated acts so long as the deaths were the result of either an intent to kill more than one person or of separate premeditated acts . . .

The court relied heavily on People v. Gleckler, 82 Ill. 2d 145, 411 N.E.2d 849, 44 Ill. Dec. 483 (Ill. 1980). In that case the defendant had shot two teenagers in the back of the head with a shotgun while they kneeled on the side of the road. He presented a coercion defense at the trial but the judge refused to instruct the jury as to that defense. This ruling was upheld by the Illinois Supreme Court. In its opinion the court analyzed the legislative intent behind the compulsion defense and the capital crime statutes and concluded that the compulsion defense was not available to any murder charge. In response to defendant's argument that the statutes did not put him on notice that compulsion was not a defense, the court admitted that it was departing from the precise terms of the statute but justified its action stating:

The enlargement of the literal meaning of a criminal statute by a State Court at last resort is permissible, at least where such an enlargement conforms ...


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